Siege of Namur (1695)

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Siege of Namur (1695)
Part of the Nine Years' War
Die Belagerung von Namur 1695.jpg
Siege of Namur (1695) by Jan van Huchtenburg. In the foreground King William III, dressed in grey, confers with Maximilian of Bavaria.
Date 2 July – 4 September 1695 [a]
Location Namur, Spanish Netherlands
(Present-day Belgium)
50°28′N 04°52′E / 50.467°N 4.867°E / 50.467; 4.867
Result Grand Alliance victory
Belligerents
 Kingdom of France Grand Alliance
 Holy Roman Empire
 Kingdom of England
 Kingdom of Scotland
 Dutch Republic
Commanders and leaders
Kingdom of France duc de Boufflers
Kingdom of France duc de Villeroi
Kingdom of France Count Guiscard
Kingdom of England Kingdom of Scotland Kingdom of Ireland Dutch RepublicWilliam III
Dutch Republic Menno van Coehoorn
Holy Roman Empire Maximilian of Bavaria
Holy Roman Empire Frederick of Prussia
Holy Roman Empire Prince Vaudémont
Strength
13,000 58,000 [b]
Casualties and losses
8,000 12,000

The 1695 Siege of Namur or Second Siege of Namur took place during the Nine Years' War between 2 July to 4 September 1695. Its loss to the French in 1692 and recapture by the Grand Alliance in 1695 are often viewed as the defining events of the war and William III's most significant military success.[1]

Background[edit]

Siege of Namur (1695) is located in Belgium
Diksmuide
Diksmuide
Deinze
Deinze
Knokke
Knokke
Brussels
Brussels
Coutrai
Coutrai
Avelgem
Avelgem
Charleroi
Charleroi
Namur
Namur
Huy
Huy
Beselare
Beselare
Mons
Mons
The 1695 Flanders campaign; key locations

By the end of 1693 the war in Flanders had reached stalemate. France had failed to force the Dutch Republic out of the war despite victories at Steinkirk and Landen and the capture of key fortresses including Namur, Mons, Huy and Charleroi. The enormous costs of these offensives had depleted the French economy while successive crop failures in 1693 and 1694 caused widespread famine in France and Northern Italy; after 1693 Louis XIV assumed a largely defensive posture in Flanders.[2]

The Grand Alliance had held together through four years of war and their losses had been damaging but not fatal; in 1694, for the first time they had a numerical advantage, recapturing towns like Huy and Diksmuide; Namur became the key objective for 1695.

Although Flanders is the term commonly used for this theatre, most campaigns took place in the Spanish Netherlands, a compact area 160 kilometres wide, the highest point only 100 metres above sea level and dominated by canals and rivers; in the 17th century, waterways were vital for supplying armies and thus were potential invasion routes into and out of France. The war was largely fought over control of these, the most important being the rivers Scheldt, Lys, Senne or Zenne, Sambre and Meuse.[3]

duc de Villeroi, Luxembourg's successor as French commander in Flanders.

Namur's location between the Sambre and Meuse made it a vital part of the "Barrier" system, a chain of fortresses in the Spanish Netherlands the Dutch viewed as essential for defence against French invasion, its possession would be extremely advantageous to the side holding it in any peace negotiations.

Marshall Luxembourg, the previous French commander in Flanders died in January 1695 and was replaced by the less talented Villeroi. French strategy for 1695 was to remain on the defensive and in April Boufflers constructed entrenchments between the rivers Scheldt and Lys, from Coutrai/Kortrijk to Avelgem.[4] William marched on these in June with the bulk of the Allied force but secretly detached Frederick of Prussia to Namur. Once Frederick was in place on 2 July, William joined him; the Allies were now split into a besieging force of 58,000 at Namur and a field army of 102,000 under Prince Vaudémont to cover Villeroi.[5]

Siege[edit]

Menno van Coehoorn

Namur was divided into the 'City' containing residential and commercial areas and the Citadel controlling access to the Sambre and Meuse rivers; in 1692, the Dutch military engineer Menno van Coehoorn had made the Citadel one of the strongest defensive points in Flanders but the garrison was less than 5,000,[c] many poorly-trained Spanish troops with low morale.[6] The City fell relatively quickly but it still took the French five weeks to capture the Citadel and they were nearly forced to withdraw by torrential weather and sickness.[d][7]

Namur's defences had been significantly upgraded by Vauban since 1692 while Boufflers had a garrison of 13,000, making it a formidable challenge, during July the Allies battered their way into the City, with both sides incurring heavy casualties; by early August the French had lost half their men in the battle for the outer defences and could not repulse another assault.[8] On 3 August the governor of Namur Count Guiscard surrendered the City to Maximilian of Bavaria and asked for a truce to allow the French to withdraw to the Citadel,[9] this was accepted and the siege resumed after six days.

Vaudémont's task was keeping his army between Villeroi and Namur; Villeroi tried to tempt him out of position by attacking Allied-held towns like Knokke and Beselare, now Zonnebeke).[e] Vaudémont refused to be drawn; both sides knew the longer the siege went on, the more likely Namur was to fall and the Allies were happy for Villeroi to spend time besieging places like Knokke. Villeroi's attempt were unsuccessful, despite the capture of Diksmuide and Deinze in late July with 6,000 - 7,000 prisoners and the Bombardment of Brussels from 13-15 August that destroyed large parts of the commercial centre.

By mid-August, the Citadel was still largely intact while Villeroi's activities made resupply much more difficult; the Allies were running out of time. Coehoorn and William now agreed a new approach;[f] a battery of 200 guns was established in Namur city and on 21 August began a continuous 24 hour bombardment of the Citadel's lower defences. Boufflers later told Louis it was ‘the most prodigious artillery ever assembled' and by 26 August the Allies were ready to assault the Citadel, at midnight on 27th Villeroi finally made contact with Vaudémont but his numerical advantage of 120,000 to 102,000 was offset by their strongly entrenched positions. Having failed to outflank the Allied lines, Villeroi retreated and William gave the order for a general assault.[10]

The assaults by the Allies were extremely bloody, that of 30 August alone costing 3,000 men in less than three hours but the defenders were eventually forced back to their final lines of defence, on 2 September Count Guiscard now commanding the key outwork of Fort Orange told Boufflers they could not repulse another attack; the garrison surrendered on 4 September, having suffered 8,000 casualties to the Allies 12,000.

Aftermath[edit]

Brussels after the bombardment; by now all sides were tired of the war's cost.

The recapture of Namur was a major achievement for the Allies but Bouffler's energetic defence prevented them taking advantage of French weakness elsewhere, an achievement recognised by Louis promoting him to Field-Marshall.[11] Neither side was capable of mounting an offensive in 1696 and serious fighting came to an end, although Louis made one final demonstration prior to the signing of the Treaty of Ryswick in September 1697.

The Siege demonstrated the validity of Coehoorn's defensive ideas as explained in his 1685 book New Fortress Construction or Nieuwe Vestingbouw op een natte of lage horisont. In it he argued that passive reliance on fortifications was not enough in flat terrain like the Netherlands and that in trying to hold an entire town defenders risked losing it very quickly. Instead he advocated a strategy that balanced inner (Citadel) and outer (City) fortifications with an active defence using counter attacks to keep the besiegers off guard; Bouffler applied this idea, although he made the mistake of committing too many troops to the outer City.

The historian John Lynn summarised Boufflers' defence as follows; (He) demonstrated one could effectively win a campaign by losing a fortress, provided you pinned down and exhausted the besieging force in the process. He conducted a classic active defence, launching attacks by the garrison on the enemy's siege works, contesting every advance as best he could.[12] Boufflers would later conduct a similarly famous and effective defence of Lille in 1708.

Prisoners were normally exchanged as soon as possible, partly because neither side wanted the expense of having to feed them,[13] on this occasions, the French refused William's request for the return of the 6,000 - 7,000 troops captured at Diksmuide and Deinze due to a dispute over the terms of their surrender.[14] By now, shortage of manpower was a problem for all combatants; many of the rank and file were forcibly enlisted into French regiments and sent to fight in Italy or Catalonia.[15] Desertion from one army to another to receive a signing-on bonus was common, particularly as these were paid immediately and wages were often months in arrears, as recruiters were paid for each man they enlisted, several thousand additional soldiers represented significant profits for the French officers involved.[16] In retaliation, despite the garrison of Namur being allowed to surrender on terms, Boufflers was taken prisoner and released only when the remaining Allied prisoners had been returned in September.[17]

Legacy[edit]

Tristram Shandy; Uncle Toby recounting the Siege to Widow Wadman

The assault by 3,000 British troops on the Terra Nova earthwork on 31 August spearheaded by 700 grenadiers is alleged to have been the inspiration for the song 'The British Grenadiers.'

The Siege and its aftermath is the centre of the novel Mother Ross; an Irish Amazon by GR Lloyd. This is an update of Daniel Defoe's original that purports to be the story of Christian 'Kit' Cavanagh alias Christian Davies, an Irish woman who enlisted in the British Army in 1693 disguised as a man and was present at the Siege.[18] Defoe claims to have met her in old age when she was a Chelsea Pensioner; it contains a number of factual errors but is an interesting and rare observation of the Siege from the rank and file.

Laurence Sterne's 1760 novel Tristram Shandy refers to a number of events from the Nine Years War, including Namur where Tristram's uncle Toby suffered an unspecified 'groin injury.' He and his trusted servant Corporal Trim build a replica of the battle in his garden which he shows to his fiancée Widow Wadman among others. The Widow tries to determine how serious Toby's injury is before committing to marriage but he avoids her questions by providing increasingly elaborate accounts of the siege,[19] this episode and Toby's reconstruction appear in the 2006 film A Cock and Bull Story.

Fourteen British regiments earned a battle honour for "Namur 1695" including the Grenadier, Coldstream and Scots Guards, the Royal Scots, the King's Own Scottish Borderers, the Royal Irish Regiment, the Royal Welch Fusiliers, the Royal Warwickshire Fusiliers, the Queen's Royal Regiment (West Surrey), the East Yorkshire Regiment and the West Yorkshire Regiment, the King's Own Royal Regiment and the King's Own Royal Border Regiment.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Dates are per the Gregorian rather than the Julian calendar then used in Britain which was ten days behind.
  2. ^ Other sources suggest 80,000.
  3. ^ Per other sources 8,000 - 9,000.
  4. ^ This was largely due to the terms negotiated by van Coehoorn when surrendering the city in which he agreed not to fire on the City in return for the French agreeing not to attack him from the City. This made the Citadel almost impregnable since that was the only way to approach it.
  5. ^ This area was devastated during the 1914-18 War and the original villages obliterated.
  6. ^ Coehoorn was an extremely able engineer but his talent in siege operations is still debated; he was in charge at Namur due to casualties.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Lenihan, Padraig (2011). "Namur Citadel, 1695: A Case Study in Allied Siege Tactics". War in History. 18 (3): 1. doi:10.1177/0968344511401296. 
  2. ^ Young, William (2004). International Politics and Warfare in the Age of Louis XIV. iUniverse. p. 229. ISBN 0595329926. 
  3. ^ Childs, John (1991). The Nine Years' War and the British Army, 1688-1697: The Operations in the Low Countries (2013 ed.). Manchester University Press. pp. 32–33. ISBN 0719089964. 
  4. ^ Lynn, John (1999). The Wars of Louis XIV, 1667-1714 (Modern Wars In Perspective). Longman. p. 247. ISBN 0582056292. 
  5. ^ Hume, David (1848). The History of England 1609-1714. p. 609. Retrieved 28 February 2018. 
  6. ^ de la Colonie, Martin, Horsley, Walter (1904). The Chronicles of an Old Campaigner M. de la Colonie, 1692-1717 (2015 ed.). Scholars Choice. p. 16. ISBN 1296409791. 
  7. ^ de la Colonie, Martin, Horsley, Walter (1904). The Chronicles of an Old Campaigner M. de la Colonie, 1692-1717 (2015 ed.). Scholars Choice. p. 16. ISBN 1296409791. 
  8. ^ Lenihan, Padraig (2011). "Namur Citadel, 1695: A Case Study in Allied Siege Tactics". War in History. 18 (3): 10–11. doi:10.1177/0968344511401296. 
  9. ^ Bright, James Pierce (1836). A History of England;Volume III (2016 ed.). Palala Press. p. 294. ISBN 135856860X. 
  10. ^ Lenihan, Padraig (2011). "Namur Citadel, 1695: A Case Study in Allied Siege Tactics". War in History. 18 (3): 20–21. doi:10.1177/0968344511401296. 
  11. ^ Young, William (2004). International Politics and Warfare in the Age of Louis XIV. iUniverse. p. 230. ISBN 0595329926. 
  12. ^ Lynn, John (1999). The Wars of Louis XIV, 1667-1714 (Modern Wars In Perspective). Longman. pp. 248–249. ISBN 0582056292. 
  13. ^ Childs, John (1991). The Nine Years' War and the British Army, 1688-1697: The Operations in the Low Countries (2013 ed.). Manchester University Press. p. 37. ISBN 0719089964. 
  14. ^ Childs, John (1991). The Nine Years' War and the British Army, 1688-1697: The Operations in the Low Countries (2013 ed.). Manchester University Press. p. 40. ISBN 0719089964. 
  15. ^ Bright, James Pierce (1836). A History of England;Volume III (2016 ed.). Palala Press. p. 295. ISBN 135856860X. Retrieved 26 February 2018. 
  16. ^ Manning, Roger (2006). An Apprenticeship in Arms; the Origins of the British Army 1585-1701. A good overview of how the recruitment system worked in this period: OUP. pp. 326 passim. ISBN 0199261490. 
  17. ^ Stapleton, John M (2007). "Prelude to Rijswijk: William III, Louis XIV, and the Strange Case of Marshal Boufflers". The Western Society of French History. 35. Retrieved 15 May 2018. 
  18. ^ Lloyd, GR (2012). Mother Ross; an Irish Amazon (Rewrite of the Daniel Defoe book ed.). AuthorHouseUK. p. 66. ISBN 147721934X. 
  19. ^ Brewer 1898, Shandy.

Sources[edit]

  • Childs, John; The Nine Years' War and the British Army (Manchester University Press, 1991);
  • Childs, John; The British Army of William III, 1689-1702 (Manchester University Press, 1990);
  • Lenihan, Padraig; Namur Citadel, 1695: A Case Study in Allied Siege Tactics (War in History, 2011)
  • Lynn, John; The Wars of Louis XIV, 1667-1714 (Longman, 1999);
  • Young, William; International Politics and Warfare in the Age of Louis XIV (iUniverse, 2004);